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UFC 237: Jared Cannonier vs. Anderson Silva Toe-to-Toe Preview

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Phil and David breakdown everything you need to know about Silva vs. Cannonier for UFC 237 in Rio, and everything you don’t about what happens when a Retirement Tour goes wrong.

Jared Cannonier vs. Anderson Silva co-headlines UFC 237 this May 11, 2019 at the Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

One sentence summary

David: Detour-nament Tour

Phil: Killa Gorillas and senescent spiders

Stats

Record: Jared Cannonier 11-4 | Anderson Silva 34-9-1 NC

Odds: Jared Cannonier -130 | Anderson Silva +110

History / Introduction to the fighters

David: Silva’s retirement tour was supposed to begin in 2015 when it seemed like Chris Weidman had starched the legend out of him. Now here we are, four years later, and Silva is seems to have rekindled that ole’ Matrix-like He’s Beginning to Believe fight magic. I won’t extrapolate too much from the Israel Adesanya fight. I think the matchup created a fog of competition, if you will. But that doesn’t mean Anderson wasn’t impressive in almost all facets of the fight. Adesanya is the hottest fighter in this galaxy right now. We all had him dead to rights, but he performed well enough for this to be more than a Retirement Tour. Instead this is his Does He Still Got It? Tour.

Phil: Anderson is having about the most respectable 1-5-1 end of career span marred by drug test failures that you could imagine. This might sound snarky but I’m serious: Silva seemed like he was toast some time ago, and yet it’s hard to look at any of his recent fights and see the embarrassments that people figured them to be. He hasn’t won a whole lot, but neither has anyone since Weidman actually looked particularly good in a win. At some point, it has to end, and he’ll go from getting dropped in fights to getting KOed clean, but up till now it’s been a relief to see him holding onto just enough of the old mojo to survive.

David: Cannonier is one of the few fighters I enjoyed doing those quick transcription clips on. If there’s one place I credit MMA, it’s for the honesty that its athletes are capable of. Does that honesty swing towards the other side of pendulum, and bring the entire edifice down with it when fighters exchange racist jabs and boomerangs in their snide efforts to scoff at civilization for Well, Reasons? Yes, unfortunately. But it also has the payoff of revealing who these men and women are. Cannonier looks like a big strong, man. But he’s also a dude who listens to his wife, doesn’t pretend to be the best, and doesn’t understand why an MMA fighter would need Popeyes for a sponsor.

Phil: Cannonier is a fun, weird fighter who has been cast into the unfortunate mold of “Big, unknown foreigner who is going to potentially knock Anderson dead in his home town.” He’s got a nice mixture of aggressive swagger in the cage and a eccentric humility outside of it- I can’t remember the last time I heard a fighter thanking Yahweh after a win. He’s also one of the few fighters I can think recently who’s had success moving from the bigger, worse divisions down to the smaller, better ones, having jumped all the way from heavyweight down to 185.

What’s at stake?

David: It’s mathematical: the legend either lives to fight on, or dies, and retires gracefully in front of his homeland. While the New Guy puts down a legend to become a legend, or has no business being talked about in the presence of legends.

Phil: Anderson Silva in Brazil. If he wins the crowd goes nuts. If he doesn’t, then Cannonier at announces himself in a division which will be wide open after the Adesanya-Whittaker fight.

Where do they want it?

David: To me, the main thing is Anderson’s pace. When you think about it, even in all of Silva’s losses, he could be threatened (Adesanya), he could be pressured (Cormier and Bisping), and he could be splayed out on the octagon floor (Weidman) — but nobody has ever dictated the pace. Nobody has ever negotiated to him the fight terms. His legend is like credit: the loan may not come, but that doesn’t mean the lenders were in power. Maybe some of this is psychological. Fighters are still human. Silva is a highlight reel of insanely gifted attacks that can be brutal (Leben), slithery (Griffin), and pinpoint (Belfort). There’s no way the back of your mind doesn’t at least whisper ‘Bad Idea’ as you pull back the wooden log a 7’ tall alien just parried against you. But obviously, a lot of this is Silva’s skillset. He establishes range with the kind of eccentricity every fighter has to at least respect. The result? Even on his deathbed, Silva remains a certified skull collector because patience beats talent when talent doesn’t think hard enough.

Phil: On review, if there’s something that I’ve consistently underestimated about Anderson in his recent run, it’s how offensively potent he still is. The days of the death touch left hand and adamantine chin are long, long gone, but even a fighter like Adesanya went in there fully prepared for trickery and found himself dealing with a man who is totally willing to just walk him down behind barrages of real, committed punches. In his fight with Nick Diaz, he simply bullied the smaller fighter, outpunching him and backing him up repeatedly, and he did of course tear Michael Bisping’s face open. Yes, large swathes of Silva’s fights are taken up with jazz hands and sundry physical gibberish, but in the moments in between he speaks with some genuine (if slightly muted) violence. I’ve kept expecting the violence to die away and the bullshitting to take over completely, but the equation still refuses to tilt.

David: Luck is such a mercurial term, it’s probably news to people that it’s easy to quantify in sports. Easy to quantify in MMA? No. But we can also point at a lot of internal contradictions in Cannonier’s career: losing to Shawn Jordan at heavyweight, Jan Blachowicz once he went down in weight, etc. Does this fit the profile of someone who can potentially win a middleweight title? I don’t think so. It’s a crude logic, but it feels sound. Once you get past that, it’s easier to break this fight down. Cannonier hasn’t shown much wrestling acumen, for example. I was shocked by how easily David Branch was able to take an otherwise powerful fighter down, which tells me that his technique is still severely lacking. There’s also the question of where power translates; we’ve seen plenty of fighters move up, and retain their strength and power, and vice versa. So far, Cannonier doesn’t strike with strong mechanics, so much as push forward mechanically with strong will. Cannonier doesn’t lack in talent. But what has gotten him this far is the ability to wade through pressure, and counter-brutalize. The raw force of his will be there when the bell rings, and long after it doesn’t. Personally I don’t care how easily such a big man gets taken down (it won’t matter in this fight anyway), how late he is with his counters, or how easily he’s picked apart with a solid jab. When you carry a big smile on your face, and bricks in your hands, I’ll never be comfortable betting against you.

Phil: Cannonier is not a particularly technically beautiful fighter, and as someone from The MMA Lab, this doesn’t exactly surprise me: John Crouch doesn’t produce finely machined technicians in almost any area of the game. What he does produce is rough-hewn, functional fighters with all the pieces they need to work: the fighting equivalent of an AK-47 or a jeep. Cannonier doesn’t have great takedown defense, or a wonderful standup game, but he’s extremely tough, hard to keep down, and will happily mix up a one-two, right hand and calf kick on those who choose to trade. The thing which struck me the most in his middleweight debut was (in retrospect, unsurprisingly) was how physically powerful he is. He was walking down opponents at heavyweight, and at middleweight he is an absolute bruiser.

Insight from past fights

David: Even against Daniel Cormier, Silva was never really bullied, and pressured — or at least pressured the way you’d expect. If Cormier couldn’t bully Silva into dead meat, how could Cannonier? I think that’s the key IMO. Can Cannonier bull through the jabs and patience Silva is so adamant about maintaining? I personally don’t see it. Especially with Cannonier’s lack of foot speed. But MMA rarely cares of internal consistency. If it did, Silva would have been destroyed against Adesanya, GSP never would have lost to Serra, and Demetrious Johnson would still be a UFC champ.

Phil: Cannonier has looked absolutely dreadful in his fights against people who want to dictate range (Blachowicz, Reyes), plodding around the cage and showing minimal ability to react or adjust. His performance against Branch was more physically impressive than it was much of a technical improvement, which begs the question: is raw physicality enough to take out Anderson Silva. The answer is, like... maybe?

X-Factors

Phil: Anderson getting more energy from being able to stay in Brazil. I hope he visits Jose Aldo’s burger joint and gets a leg kick burger.

David: That is some low rate gimmickery, but damn if I’m not in the mood for one of those burgers.

Prognostication

Phil: I know I should just pick Cannonier to overwhelm an aging Silva. But I just can’t. He looked so bad against Blachowicz and Reyes. So bad. I don’t know how Silva actually wins, seeing as Cannonier’s chin has largely been phenomenal, but I’m going to gamble on him just flummoxing the more limited fighter. Anderson Silva by unanimous decision.

David: If we’re being honest, he looked bad against Branch too. Branch controlled that fight with ease, working takedowns, and the occasional jab until Cannonier chambered a straight right from the hills. I like Cannonier too much as Just a Guy to pick against him with ease. For all the legend talk, Silva is still old AF. The other thing I firmly believe is in Cannonier’s progression. While I believe there’s a limit to his progress given his age, he seems legitimately dedicated to improving in every nook, and cranny of the fight-technique game he can find. I wouldn’t be shocked he lands some baby shot on Silva’s chin, and out go the lights. But since we pick fights in a vacuum at times, I’ll go with the legend. Anderson Silva by Decision.